Rio Tinto said on Monday it will consider whether to return to mining in Papua New Guinea following this month’s passage of a new mining law on the island of Bougainville, where the company abandoned its Panguna copper mine 25 years ago.
The new law converts Bougainville Copper Ltd’s mining lease into an exploration lease. That can be converted to a mining lease if approved by the autonomous province’s government, which now controls resources on the island.
“In light of recent developments in Papua New Guinea, including the new mining legislation passed earlier this month by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), Rio Tinto has decided now is an appropriate time to review all options for its 53.83 per cent stake in Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL),” the company said on Monday.
Rio Tinto declined to comment on what was the most likely outcome of its review or how soon a decision would be made. Selling its stake to Bougainville Copper Ltd would be an option.
A secessionist rebellion on Bougainville in 1989 stopped mining at BCL’s Panguna mine. The mine produced some 3 million tonnes of copper and 9.3 million ounces of gold over 17 years.
The company has been in talks with the government of Papua New Guinea, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and landowners about whether to return.